I am often reminded when seeing clients for psychotherapy or when teaching mindfulness,how necessary it is for us to face fear gently.At every stage of life if we allow our fears to make us withdraw from the world in some way we will only be worsening our situation.
Facing fear in shyness or social anxiety
Shyness or early social anxiety would be an example. If we have fear of not being good enough, not being perfect enough or not being socially capable and we pull back from friends because of this. We then become more and more isolated and it only worsens our situation. The only way to move beyond emotion is to fully acknowledge and accept it.So in this situation we acknowledge our feelings of inadequacy and fear,just accept them and allow them to be there. We aim however not to judge ourselves for being who we are, no matter if we are socially awkward or fearful.No human anywhere is perfect and there are very few humans who don’t in some way feel inadequate. All of us have something very valuable to offer the world. It helps to learn to focus on warmth we can offer to others rather than what they may think of us.Tune in to what you can offer to others , accept any fear that is there and then start slowly reaching out.We can do this in small steps. Perhaps engaging with individuals first with whom we feel the most comfortable. Maybe just asking a few questions and listening and speaking a little ourselves, always intending to stay warm and not withdraw.
If others feel liked and accepted by us they will like us in return.
Truly if others feel liked by us they will like us in return, and if they feel listened to.However it is important not to become someone who just listens to everyone. Relationships are best kept equal with a roughly equal amount of sharing and listening from both sides. We do have to learn to stand up for who we are in this process. this requires being authentic not performing just because we think that’s what others may like.Also choose people who may have similar interests with whom we feel comfortable.There is never the need to force ourselves to be the life of the party, nor to force ourselves to hang out with people whom we feel very uncomfortable around.It is very possible if we face our fear gently and slowly that we can overcome our shyness and develop enough warm friendships. We also learn to allow our vulnerability and be authentic along the way.
Facing social anxieties can be necessary as early as primary school to teenagehood right the way through to elderly clients. I have seen many elderly clients for psychotherapy who are suffering from significant social isolation and depression mainly because they have fear around socializing. Retirement villages ( or other resources) are a fantastic way to prevent social isolation but many people have too much fear to consider the possibility. The need to face fear in our lives in order to grow and be in community never stops.
Facing fear around things we may not be good at, or being ourselves
Facing fear around other issues is also necessary. It may be around finding a job that is really suitable for us . Having the willingness to really put ourselves out there. It may be around working a little on some learning issue we may have.Many people may struggle with reading, writing or maths.Of course in the end we need to work in an area that really suits us and this usually will be something we are naturally quite good at. However along the way it is often very helpful to have the willingness to face fear around getting a little better at something that we find very challenging. To work at things even if we know they are not our strength , to ask for help if we need it. I have written a post before on vulnerability and how valuable it is to allow it in ourselves.Vulnerability includes the willingness not to know or the willingness to get things wrong or the willingness to ask for help.
Facing fear may be as simple as the necessity to face our deepest emotion. Really seeing our feelings of inadequacy, our pain,our fear and acknowledging them with deep acceptance.Whatever we acknowledge in acceptance we will move beyond.
It is not helpful to force ourselves to do things that are not really who we are. For example if sport is not our thing , then we don’t have to make ourselves play sport we can stay fit in other ways. It is also generally far better to work in an area that comes fairly naturally to us or that we feel comfortable in, so that we are using our natural aptitudes.However inevitably, along the way, we will need to face things that may be challenging or a little scary.If we know that it would be beneficial to face them then we need to do that.
Facing fear around being more present in the world
Mindfulness is about learning to be present in this moment and as part of that we slowly become more and more authentic to our deepest selves. Learning to be present in the world definitely requires courage because we let go of the performance and of meeting other peoples expectations.We may appear a little different for those reasons, perhaps more still ,perhaps setting clear boundaries others may struggle with, perhaps less engaged with superficial conversation , perhaps more open and loving. Truly healing requires courage and the ongoing necessity to face our fears gently.
Look into your life and see the things that may be beneficial to you and notice if you have fear of those things.Aim not to let your fear prevent you from moving forward.Always take very slow gentle steps. It is never helpful to force ourselves too quickly nor to be hard on ourselves. This is not about judgment .It is just about the willingness to approach what we are scared of with very gentle steps and slowly to move beyond our fear.